Whenever I fly back to Delhi in the summer, there’s always at least one one big red carton tied with plastic twine, wandering aimlessly on the conveyor belt. Inside is a batch of fresh mangoes, usually from Mumbai, bedded down in a whole lot of hay. I’ve often contemplated swiping the box and running off with the loot. I never look into the eyes of my fellow passengers (because who does that?) but I know with certainty that they’re all contemplating the same thing.
Of the many things that suck about the Delhi summer — the water shortages, the power cuts, how you inevitably end up with the Uber whose AC doesn’t work, the one day of unseasonal rain that leaves the city in tatters — the one joy worth cherishing is all the fruit we get. I am talking especially of mangoes.
This is the season of the indescribable sense of rapture with which you finish an entire mango alone. It could be cut up in neat little cubes and you eat each one with a fork, with finesse like a foreigner. Or it could be two distinct slices either side of the giant pit in the centre. If you’re like me, you have no doubt tried biting into the pit plenty of times once done with all the fruity stuff. (It’s not fun.)
There’s also the one you squeeze and suck on (shut up, we’re all adults here). Once you’re done, it surrounds your mouth — I had to wipe mango residue off my forehead and elbows once — and you get to prolong the aftertaste by swiping it off. I remember what a big deal mango stains were when I was a child; I was only allowed to eat mangoes on the street outside my house, and only with a bib, and only while wearing my Holi clothes. And only if I’d been well behaved the past few days.
Now for the problem with it. For starters, how much do mangoes cost?! I mean, I actually don’t know (I’m not allowed to buy fruit because I can’t tell a grape from a potato), but the answer is: generally a small fortune. Then there’s the complex skillset you need to acquire to be able to cut a mango. There’s a lot of inverted slicing and rearranging and sculpting and paring and whittling; it looks, often, like a crocheted work of mediocre art. Really, it’s a two-person job — aka one person cutting and me eating.
What really annoys me, though, is the baggage that a mango comes with. Literally no one will shut up about its virtues. It’s dumped into milkshakes, into desserts and ice-creams, into fusion dishes. I don’t mind this in moderation. It can even be endearing. But why is it always so in your face? Why have I spotted people on the street brawling over who likes mangoes more? What’s the deal with mango supremacism?
Literally no one will shut up about its virtues.
That’s saying nothing of the mind-numbingly, skull-crushingly, heart-breakingly, soul-achingly tedious genre wars that invariably run from March to July, like Napoleon sweeping Russia. Is the alphonso the king of kings, the ultimate mango emperor? The langda is allegedly a million times better than the dussehri or, if you speak to literally the next person in the room, vice versa. You have a hundred different varieties, each one coming with its own set of guiding principles and army of tin-hat patriots. Sure, it doesn’t take an expert to tell the difference between various kinds — I’m especially sensitive to the thin, hyper-orange-almost-red kind that I cannot eat because it irritates my throat and makes me cough — but is there a mango that also comes with a chill pill you can swallow before?
As for that red box on the conveyor belt, the Mumbai mango, which those dimwits on the coast call “hapus” in their over-familiar way. I feel so much pressure. This one mango is supposed to change my life and it’s my fault if it doesn’t. Like I’m a savage if I don’t do a little jig of unbridled appreciation at the end. What if there’s mangoes at home but this one day — just for today — I’m not in the mood? I have a headache? Will a chamber orchestra of mango bandits (dressed in saffron bibs, of course) barge into my house and beat me up?
That’s saying nothing of the mind-numbingly, skull-crushingly, heart-breakingly, soul-achingly tedious genre wars that invariably run from March to July, like Napoleon sweeping Russia.
The thing is, I do love mangoes. My contempt for the supremacists versus my desire to eat more mangoes (especially the ones imported from Mumbai) leads to a kind of cognitive dissonance that sends my brain into a tizzy. The “narrative” becomes, at times, a bit too much. And what really bothers me is how much oxygen mangoes take up.
As someone who eats a lot of fruit and feels a lot of empathy, this whole mango storyline upsets me, friends. I feel like there are other fruits that deserve their time in the limelight. Mangoes are the cricket of the fruit kingdom, the other fruits being an assorted selection of sports that we only care about when there’s the possibility of a gold medal.
What about the watermelon, I say? I rate it as highly on most days, sometimes more, sometimes less. It has a stunning textured red colour; it asks for some (but not a lot of) commitment given all the seeds it hosts; it’s filled with, like, 73% water so you won’t get dehydrated so it’s healthy too; and, just like mangoes, it’s not just the exquisite taste but also the essence and flavour of the fruit (better defined as the post-eating burp) that make the whole experience so meaningful. In fact the whole melon family is fairly gifted in these areas. Even the regular kind of Delhi melon — the kharbooza — has its own positive attributes. Basically, I just think we need to cool it with the mango hegemony. I’ve even found a solution, actually: alongside every meal, I eat a helping of both mango and watermelon.
Akhil Sood is an arts and culture writer living in New Delhi.
Photo Credit: Fruit For Living
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